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Rand L. Stephens & Richard Koss

What Are My Rights Concerning Co-Worker Harassment

Concept harassment. Afraid young woman sit at table. Harrasment goes out of her boss. He keep hand on her shoulder. Guy wat to have sex with model.

California law protects workers from discrimination or harassment in the workplace.  While many illegal behaviors from come above, such as termination, denial of a promotion, or discriminatory behavior based on protected characteristics by a supervisor, many forms of discrimination and harassment may be conducted by co-workers at your own level.  Your employer is responsible not only for avoiding harassment by supervisors and the company but also for preventing unlawful harassment that has been identified at any level.  Read on for a discussion of your rights regarding co-worker harassment, and contact a dedicated California employment law and anti-discrimination attorney for help with an employment-related matter.

You have the right to be free from harassment

California law prohibits employers from tolerating harassment in the workplace.  Unlawful harassment occurs when a person directs negative, inappropriate, or unwanted conduct at another worker (whether a coworker, a superior or a subordinate) based on certain protected characteristics.  Protected characteristics include race, gender, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status, religion, and others.  Harassment can take many forms, including:

  • Unwanted physical contact, whether violent or sexual
  • Inappropriate jokes or derogatory comments such as the use of slurs or stereotypes
  • Visual harassment such as inappropriate posters or signs
  • Threats, either direct or implied
  • Aggressive or repeated requests for sexual favors, or other inappropriate and unwanted sexual comments
  • Showing favoritism based on a protected characteristic

Any one or combination of these behaviors, particularly if repeated over time, can create an unlawful hostile work environment.  Under California law, employers must “take reasonable steps to prevent and correct wrongful (harassing, discriminatory, retaliatory) behavior in the workplace.” 

Harassment, whether sexual, discriminatory, violent or otherwise, is unlawful regardless of whether a supervisor or a coworker perpetrates it.  A client or a visiting contractor can even create a hostile work environment.  When a supervisor commits harassment, the employer is more likely to be automatically liable.  When a coworker or other person commits harassment, the worker being harassed should report the harassment to human resources or a supervisor.  At that point, the employer must take steps to remedy the situation.  If an employer knows or should have known about the harassment and does not do anything to stop it, then the employer may be liable for a workplace harassment claim.

What to do about harassment in the workplace?

If a coworker is harassing you, report it to a superior or HR.  If the employer does not fix the issue, file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).  The DFEH will investigate and may issue a “right to sue” notice.  Once you have a right to sue notice, you can then bring a civil lawsuit against the harasser and/or your employer, depending on the culpability of their conduct.

Help is Available for Workplace Discrimination in San Francisco

If you are a San Francisco employer or employee needing assistance with a claim of harassment, retaliation, or workplace discrimination, contact the Richard Koss Bay Area employment law attorneys at 650-722-7046 on the San Francisco Peninsula, or 925-757-1700 in the East Bay.

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